Thursday, July 17, 2008

The dishonesty problem with Middle East Studies

by Daniel Pipes

As one of the few pro-U.S. and pro-Israel voices in the field of Middle East studies, I find my views get frequently mangled by others in the field - thus I have had to post a 5,000-word document titled "Department of Corrections (of Others' Factual Mistakes about Me)" on my website.

Usually, the precise evolution of such mistakes escapes me. Recently, however, I discovered just how one developed in three steps and confronted the two academics who made the errors. Their unwillingness to acknowledge their errors illustrates the mixture of incompetence and arrogance of Middle East studies as it is, unfortunately, too often practiced in the academy.

(1) In "The Muslims are Coming! The Muslims are Coming!" National Review, November 19, 1990, I wrote about some of the reasons for Western fears of Muslims:
Muslims have gone through a trauma during the last two hundred years - the tribulation of God's people who unaccountably found themselves at the bottom of the heap. The strains have been enormous and the results agonizing; Muslim countries have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world. Only Turkey (and sometimes Pakistan) is fully democratic, and even there the system is frail. Everywhere else, the head of government got to power through force[,] his own or someone else's. The result is endemic instability plus a great deal of aggression.

Despite such problems, I concluded, "none of this justifies seeing Muslims as the paramount enemy."

(2) Yahya Sadowski, then of the Brookings Institution, quoted the bolded line of the above paragraph in an entirely different context in "The New Orientalism and the Democracy Debate," Middle East Report, July-August 1993, p. 14. Discussing Western considerations of democracy's prospects in the Middle East, Sadowski wrote:
The thesis that Middle Eastern societies are resistant to democratization had been a standard tenet of Orientalist thought for decades, but in the 1980s a new generation of Orientalists inverted some of the old assumptions and employed a new vocabulary which allowed them to link their work to a wider, international debate about the relationship between "civil society" and democratization. These updated arguments sought to prove not only - as neo-Orientalist Daniel Pipes put it - that "Muslim countries have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world," but that they always would.

Sadowski quoted my words accurately but turned their meaning upside-down; he transformed my rather prosaic observation of fact into part of a grand theory that I never enunciated - and which, for the record, I repudiate. Throughout my work, I stress mutability and change and argue against historical essentialism concerning Islam. I see the Muslim world as changing and avoid extrapolations from present-day circumstances to the future. I make a point not to say something will "always" be a certain way. Further, contrary to Sadowski, I hold that Islam and democracy are indeed compatible.

Joel Beinin of Stanford University and Joe Stork of the Middle East Report then gave the Sadowski article legs by reprinting it in their co-edited 1996 University of California Press book, Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report; I am quoted on p. 34.

(3) Then along came Yakub Halabi, at the time a Ph.D. student at the University of Denver, with "Orientalism and US Democratization Policy in the Middle East," International Studies, 36 (1999), pp. 385-87. Halabi relied on Sadowski's distorted version of my words and further elaborated on it, now in the context of his discussion of Western attempts to understand how a passive Muslim people could have brought off the Iranian revolution:
The neo-orientalist school emerged in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. It was an attempt to remove the anomaly in the orientalist approach that could not explain why a Muslim society rebelled against the Shah. . Orientalists as well as neo-orientalists, however, ignore any sort of modernity or novelty in Islamic societies in general and in the Iranian revolution in particular.

Halabi went on to note that some analysts depicted Islamic movements as not just radical but also anti-Western and anti-modernist.
One such writer Daniel Pipes, for example, depicts Muslims as "permanent" anti-democrats and terrorists. In his words: "Muslim countries [not only] have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world, but that they always will."

"In his words"? Hardly; I said nothing of the sort. Halabi changed my meaning by ascribing the word "permanent" to me, though it appeared nowhere in my essay; by adding two words in square brackets; and by falsely ascribing Sadowski's phrase to me. To complete the transformation, he even altered Sadowski's language, changing the final bolded word from "would" to "will."

As with Sadowski's perversion of my sentence, I disavow the fictitious quote Halabi attributes to me.


(1) Sadowski and Halabi turned my simple statement into the linchpin of their quite distinct generalizations about "Orientalism."

(2) I wrote to each of Sadowski and Halabi, requesting a retraction and an apology. Sadowski did not respond. Halabi wrote back and justified his inaccuracy with a reference to post-modern subjectivity, with its convenient insouciance toward such concepts as truth and falsehood: "This is the way I understood and interpreted your article. When you write an article, you cannot control the way others interprete [sic] it." Such defiant subjectivity undermines the scholarly enterprise.

(3) How to explain that two specialists hostile to my outlook each mangled my words? I see two possibilities: That they did so purposefully; or that bias colored their reading. I doubt they did so intentionally - no one wishes to be caught out and ridiculed for making errors. My hunch is that, in their eagerness to discredit someone whose approach differs from theirs, they read my analysis hastily and prejudicially, prompting the sequence of mistakes documented here. Such attitudes have contributed importantly to what Martin Kramer characterizes as "the failure of Middle Eastern studies in America."


Decision in Arizona case restores Fourth Amendment to schools

In a major slap-down to public-school control-freakery, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (PDF) that there actually are limits to the power of educrats to grope and humiliate their charges in search of illicit over-the-counter medications. From the opinion, here are the details of the search of 13-year-old Savana Redding, which took place in Safford, Arizona:
First, Savana removed her socks, shoes and jacket for inspection for ibuprofen. The officials found nothing. Then, Romero asked Savana to remove her T-shirt and stretch pants. Embarrassed and scared, Savana complied and sat in her bra and underwear while the two adults examined her clothes. Again, the officials found nothing. Still progressing with the search, despite receiving only corroboration of Savana's pleas that she did not have any ibuprofen, Romero instructed Savana to pull her bra out to the side and shake it. Savana followed the instructions, exposing her naked breasts in the process. The shaking failed to dislodge any pills. Romero next requested that Savana pull out her underwear at the crotch and shake it. Hiding her head so that the adults could not see that she was about to cry, Savana complied and pulled out her underwear, revealing her pelvic area. No ibuprofen was found. The school officials finally stopped and told Savana to put her clothes back on and accompany Romero back to Wilson's office.

Yes, the school had a firm-and-fast rule against the sort of medications almost everybody keeps in their medicine cabinet for casual use. As insane as that seems, it's a concern best addressed separately.

Earlier court decisions had given a rousing thumbs-up to Redding's ordeal, but the appeals court had second thoughts. Writing for the majority, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said:
Common sense informs us that directing a thirteen-year-old girl to remove her clothes, partially revealing her breasts and pelvic area, for allegedly possessing ibuprofen, an infraction that poses an imminent danger to no one, and which could be handled by keeping her in the principal's office until a parent arrived or simply sending her home, was excessively intrusive.

Logically enough, the court found that "The strip search of thirteen-year-old Savana ... was conducted in violation of Savana's Fourth Amendment rights."

Good. Not only is that ruling a sound recognition of the rights of the individual, but it will spare many fathers and mothers the unpleasant necessity to go forth and do violence to school administrators who abuse their children.


Formidable Ignorance

One of many good comments yesterday from Taranto:

From a Cornell University press release:
Climate change and its effects on ecosystems is the No. 1 crisis facing the world, according to Cornell faculty--but it is a phenomenon not easily reversed. The most important problem that is more easily solved? Insufficient education in science, critical thinking and environmental issues.

If even the faculty of an Ivy League university is foolish enough to think that "climate change" is "the No. 1 crisis facing the world," then it is wildly optimistic to think that "insufficient education in science, critical thinking and environmental issues" is a solvable problem.

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